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Research Shows Life-Threatening Bias Against Single People

The bias against single people that I call “singlism” is pervasive. The stereotyping, stigmatizing, and marginalizing of single people, and the discrimination against them, shows up in the workplace, the marketplace, the classroom, and the boardroom; in politics, the military, and in the laws of the land; in places of worship, in psychotherapy, and in the medical establishment; in advertising, popular culture, and in everyday life.

Often, though, when I talk about singlism, other people are dismissive. They say it doesn’t really exist, and even if it does, it is no big deal. Well, it does exist, and sometimes it is a very big deal. A just-published series of three studies suggest that in the realm of medical decision-making, it may even be a matter of life and death.

The studies, reported in the article “Marital privilege: Bias against divorced patients in medical decision-making” in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, were about adding patients to organ transplant lists and whether people use marital status as a factor in deciding whether a patient should get included on a list. They do use it—and in a very prejudicial way. They recommend married patients for the transplant list more than divorced patients or patients who show up for an evaluation appointment without a spouse or an ex-spouse.

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